Ithaca’s Fracking Dilemma


Newfield Hamlet, New York—  Our guide in Ithaca is a retired midwife named Lindy, who in her free time makes her own oven mitts and is working on a children’s picture book. Lindy takes us through one of the area’s gorges, distinguished by its sheer cliffs of jagged grey shale, which, when wet, take on the complexion and shape of stacks upon stacks of stale baklava. The conversation turns to fracking.

Fracking, for the uninitiated, is the hot new craze (although it’s been around for a while) in environmentally scarring resource extraction in which sheets of shale are blasted with water and toxic chemicals to unleash sweet, sweet natural gas deposits. I’ve seen “No Fracking” signs off and on since I left Oneonta a day ago—it’s a divisive issue, especially in a region as hard on its luck as this. Anyways, here’s Lindy’s view of things:

“It’s very loud. There’s a huge, huge, generator. If your neighbor does it, they’re just gonna leave it to the frackers and pack up. Plus your water is well water, and you’re gonna lose your well! I don’t think the cost compared to the value—they’re not gaining enough to justify the cost to the water and quality of life. Having a huge gas drill next to you is not quality of life. That’s bottom line. That’s very, very bottom line.

“It’s really hard for people here because the economy is destroyed out here in the country Who can turn down $8,000 a month, which is what they give you, when you’re at subsistence living? Somebody is going to fall for that, and then the rest of the community is gonna suffer. Ethically, people have an issue: Should I turn my land over to the wells and go off to Florida? We have meetings, we have people who give presentations.

“I grew up in Bolivar, New York*. It was an oil drilling town then, and there are lot of pumps still drilling. My mornings began with the oil pumps. Kaboom! Kaboom! So the area has a lot of resources, but you’ve got to see what the cost is. I had relatives who died in the early oil wells, because the gases come up and kill you. That’s a cost! You have costs with these things and you have to live with those costs.”

For more on Fracking, check out MoJo’s Kate Sheppard’s reporting on the issue.

*That’s Bolivar as in “Oliver.” Bolivar is part of a proud tradition of American towns, in which settlers chose a grandiose foreign name (in honor of Simon Bolivar, in this case), but wanted no part of the pronounciation—like Versailles, Kentucky (Ver-Sell¬-iss) and Cairo, Illinois (K-Ro).

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  • Tim Murphy

    Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Reach him at tmurphy@motherjones.com.